Not one, but two bisexual protagonists? A contemporary fiction book which explores the gender norms that infiltrate our society? I know you are thinking this book can’t possibly exist, but here it is. Louis & Louise is all of these things and more. Julie Cohen has created a wonderful novel that is important and uplifting.
The novel follows two eponymous characters who are in fact, the same person. Cohen starts by telling the story of how Louise is born, and then the same birth story but this time the parents give birth to a son, Louis. From then on each chapter tells a continuing story about Louis and Louise returning to their hometown to care for their sick mother. Cohen also writes some chapters where the narrative is unaffected by the gender of the character, using ‘they/them’ pronouns Cohen shows how universal some experiences are, no matter what your gender identity. However, the purpose of this book is to show the audience how men and women experience the world differently, and how society’s expectations can create such different outcomes.
The story of both of these characters is one of turmoil, they both carry secrets with them and both escape their small-town upbringing. However, the reason for this turmoil is dramatically different.
Louis’ story tells a childhood of boyhood fun and frivolity, he is allowed to run amok with his friends Benny and Allie, with their dad teaching the boys how to fire a gun and the assumption that Louis would take over his father’s company when he was of age. He falls in love and dates Allie, but seems to hide/feel shame about his feelings towards Benny. Although Louis writes a book and becomes a professional author, he is haunted by the events that lead to the death of Benny. Benny’s death in this version of events is harrowing, and Cohen uses it to highlight how dangerous it can be when men feel they have to hide their emotions and feelings. On the other hand, Louise is able to be open and honest about her feelings for Benny, however he reciprocates through male violence and she suffers the consequences.
Louise is never able to write or publish her book, and she is left raising her child alone as her mother warns her that she cannot tell people what Benny had done to her. There are many difficult and tough aspects to her life.
Although there are serious and difficult issues raised in this book, Cohen does her best to highlight the importance of friendships and honesty and to keep the book positive.
Cohen also has both of these characters explore their bisexuality; with Louise being able to be open and honest about her identity, whereas Louis’ seems to be shrouded in shame and secrecy. This is an incredibly interesting parallel to make and demonstrates problematic attitudes towards bisexuality in our society.
Although I have mainly talked about the interesting social commentary that Cohen explores, this book is amazing for so many reasons. The characters are loveable, the family dynamic is easy to relate to and the story is compelling and fascinating.
This book is one you should definitely add to your TBR!
My rating: 8/10
**always out of 10 because 5 is too restricting!